Everton secured the Club's proud and precious Premier League status with a second-half performance against Crystal Palace on Thursday sure to enter Goodison Park legend.
Here, we highlight some of the major talking points from a euphoric night in L4 – and six weeks that have transformed the mood of an entire football club.
We Shall Not Be Moved
The second 45 minutes inside a frothing Goodison Park encapsulated to a T the fight and spirit and over-my-dead-body attitude that have characterised a defiant club over six remarkable weeks.
Here, in microcosm, was the closing stretch of Everton’s season, the team slipping to a position of very real peril before mustering a revival that looked unstoppable from the first momentum-changing episode.
In a wider context, the occasion and result this month when Chelsea were swept away on a tidal wave of energy and emotion were pivotal.
Everton kicked off that match on 1 May five points from safety. Supporters had a very clear choice 24 hours after Burnley scored two late goals to defeat Watford and create that formidable cushion over Frank Lampard’s team.
The easy option would have been to accept a cursed season was destined to culminate in relegation, to point to the law of averages and conclude 68 consecutive years of top-flight football had to end some day.
But following Everton breeds reserves of resolve and character. So fans circled the wagons, mobilising for a compelling, rousing demonstration of support.
From the moment they converged en masse on Goodison Road to greet the team coach prior to the Chelsea match, there has been a sense of something special in the air to join the billowing blue smoke and crackling renditions of Spirit of the Blues.
Everton subsequently climbed to a position of safety – but after 36 minutes against Crystal Palace it appeared the roof was falling in.
Michael Keane, who some at Everton insist is among the Club’s sharpest finishers, began the repair job, swatting in an accomplished penalty-box strike.
And just as Everton moved within two points of Burnley – and within sight of Premier League security – with that victory over Chelsea, so Keane’s goal prompted renewed hope.
Tentative and passive in the opening half, Everton were transformed. The home team’s football was breathless at times, fast and aggressive and creating a weight of pressure their creaking opponents couldn’t withstand.
The equaliser felt inevitable and following Richarlison’s sixth goal in 10 matches, events at Villa Park, where Burnley were playing, faded into irrelevance.
Everton had taken matters into their own hands, in the same way they took charge of their own destiny by claiming seven points from the opening three matches this month.
And when Dominic Calvert-Lewin headed in with five minutes remaining to prompt scenes of unbridled jubilation inside Goodison Park – the fabulous stadium as loud and partisan as ever in her dotage – the comeback was complete.
Everton; unified, cussed, gutsy Everton had recovered from two goals down and conclusively overturned a five-point deficit that appeared so forbidding only 19 days earlier.
Lampard Strikes Right Note Over Evertonian Emotion
The pleasing symmetry of Everton securing a 69th top-flight season by winning an 1878th match in the Club’s 144-year history was noted in many quarters.
But there was a gratifying element in the identity of Thursday’s opponents, too.
It was after a 4-0 FA Cup defeat at Crystal Palace on 20 March that Frank Lampard urged his players to show the requisite courage to play for Everton.
How they responded, albeit there was a false start when games at West Ham United and Burnley yielded zero return.
A victory over Manchester United provided an ideal riposte to those setbacks on the road and ushered in a rousing six weeks that climaxed with Lampard leaping up and down on the roof of a Goodison Park executive box.
How Lampard deserved to share that moment with the Evertonians who bellowed the manager’s name long into the clement night.
From that carefully aimed comment at Selhurst Park two months ago, Lampard has consistently struck the right note with his club's players and supporters.
He never publicly shrank from the gravity of Everton’s predicament, remaining faithful to a personality that confronts challenges head on.
Lampard urged his players to embrace the “good pressure”, to harness the imperative of stitching together victories to banish the threat of a first relegation since 1951.
Following the 43-year-old’s appointment as manager on 31 January, Professor Denise Barrett-Baxendale, the Club’s Chief Executive, intimated “there are still some great moments to be written in his [Lampard’s] footballing story”.
Lampard duly called Thursday “one of the greatest nights of my career”, some declaration from a man who completed a clean sweep of domestic honours during a glittering two decades playing at the peak of the game.
The Club has hooked its clutches firmly into the man from Romford.
Absolutely everybody: *LIMBS!!!* 🙌— Everton (@Everton) May 19, 2022
And how this emotionally intelligent, empathetic manager got it right again as the clock ticked towards midnight and he answered questions over the euphoric reaction at full-time.
Evertonians had every right to celebrate, to savour their Club’s survival following a fraught few months, insisted Lampard.
His words provided a timely antidote to those sniping from the sidelines. Honestly, it would be a joyless soul who denied the Club’s supporters their moment to express the relief and delight they felt in equal measure.
The connection between manager and players and fans is stronger than at any time in the Club’s recent history.
That alone is reason to rejoice.
Dele Addition A Masterstroke
Whether Frank Lampard instructed Dele to warm-up outdoors at half-time, or the player simply needed to stretch his legs, the sight of the midfielder striding out, tracksuit top discarded, generated a renewed buzz around Goodison Park.
Those fans who saved their best for last, managing to surpass even the broiling, booming atmospheres of recent home games against Chelsea and Brentford, were winded following Crystal Palace’s twin-first-half sucker punch.
The imminent arrival of a thoroughbred England midfielder had the effect of returning the air to the lungs of the stunned home supporters.
Dele gave the Evertonians something new to cling to. Lampard is proactive – “modern, astute and forward-thinking”, observed Professor Barrett-Baxendale, prior to the manager’s opening game – and was never going to sit on his hands at 2-0.
Summoning a player who is waiting for his first Everton start following a 1 February transfer from Tottenham Hotspur – and whose lengthiest involvement since playing 65 minutes at Newcastle one week after joining, was a 32-minute cameo against Leicester City last month – was not the obvious call.
But from the opening minutes of the second half, it was evident the introduction of Dele, coupled with switches to a back four and three-man midfield, had changed the shape and direction of the contest.
The confident and combative Dele rattled Palace cages and employed his touch and understanding of space and angles to help Everton secure controlled possession.
He won the free-kick from which Everton scored to begin their fightback – one of four fouls on Dele, who despite only playing half the game was its most sinned against performer.
Dele had a big hand in the equaliser, too, reining in Seamus Coleman’s cross and turning a ball towards goal to cause panic in the visitors' rearguard, with Richarlison making full capital on the rushed clearance.
Lampard insisted post-match that tactical considerations were secondary to the aim of provided an energy surge when making half-time alterations.
Dele emphatically delivered the required fire and vitality and might just have powered up his Goodison Park career in the process.
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CALVERT-LEWIN & KEANE REACT TO INCREDIBLE FINISH
Rejuvenated Iwobi Is Key Man
We’d be here until kick-off in North London on Sunday if we singled out the contributions of key individuals in Everton’s late-season resurgence.
From Anthony Gordon, who responded to the toughest baptism to Premier League football imaginable with a string of forceful, courageous displays, through the redoubtable Vitalii Mykolenko, showing maturity and composure beyond his years at such a complicated time in the Ukranian’s young life, to Fabian Delph, whose five appearances over the past six weeks produced three wins and two defeats – there are uplifting personal tales to be told everywhere we look.
It would be remiss, too, to forego mention of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, fit in the nick of time to decisively have a say in Everton’s campaign, and fellow attacker Richarlison, whose six goals in 10 matches represented the embodiment of a big player stepping up to the plate.
Jordan Pickford has made enough extraordinary saves over the past few months to merit a personal highlights reel.
But it is the long-unsung Alex Iwobi whose efforts we will highlight here.
Iwobi has played very minute of Everton’s past 11 Premier League matches.
Prior to the opening game of that sequence – the victory over Newcastle United secured by Iwobi’s exquisite finish in the ninth minute of time added on – his previous longest starting run, following a transfer from Arsenal in August 2019, extended to seven matches.
Iwobi has long maintained his strengths are best suited to a role in the middle of the field and given a chance in his favoured position, the 26-year-old was as good as his word.
The driving runs through the centre of the pitch, the sharp and incisive passing, and the tireless and disciplined chasing and closing set the tone for Everton’s quick and aggressive approach over the season’s closing months.
Iwobi went to wing-back when Frank Lampard adopted a three-man defence for the win over Chelsea – and stayed in that position until midway through Thursday’s humdinger against Palace.
Iwobi was adhesive and committed in the wide role. A team man to the bone, Iwobi lent Everton balance, providing attacking intent and listening and responding to instructions from Seamus Coleman over his shoulder in defensive situations.
Iwobi nevertheless appeared liberated by his release into midfield for the second half against Patrick Vieira's enterprising team.
Blessed with boundless energy, he repeatedly drove through the heart of the visitors, his three completed dribbles matched only by zippy Palace forward Wilfried Zaha.
Iwobi’s fast-growing belief and readiness to shoulder responsibility were exemplified in the statistic that showed he had 79 touches of the ball – more than any teammates and fewer only than Tyrick Mitchell (85), the visitors’ left back.
A tune featuring Iwobi’s name has made its way onto the Goodison songsheet of late, a sure sign of the player’s newly-acquired key-figure status.
Iwobi recently related an episode to underline a sea change in his relationship with supporters.
He misplaced a pass during the win over Manchester United – when Iwobi scorched across 11.6km, the most distance covered by any player on that day – and was taken aback by the response.
“The fans clapped the pass because they saw the intent,” Iwobi said in an interview with Everton’s matchday programme. “It was the first time that had happened for ages.
“To hear that change in environment, I felt, ‘Wow, that is kind of nice – as long as you are giving 100 per cent, if it doesn’t come off, they will stay behind you’.
“That support removes the fear of making mistakes, you are prepared to try things on the ball.”
For the personable Iwobi, this has been a transformational couple of months and he deserves every piece of praise directed his way.
Returning to Frank Lampard’s insistence that Everton’s players and supporters should savour the survival achieved following four wins and two draws from eight matches – only three clubs have managed better returns in that period, and two of them are vying for the Premier League title – the manager was similarly unequivocal over the longer-term implications of staying up.
Lampard has been utterly consumed by the challenge of protecting Everton’s long-standing top-flight status in 108 days in post.
Only now, can he really begin tackling the meat of the job he came to Goodison to undertake.
The Club is already under way with a strategic review to guard against repeating missteps that eventually led to this brush with relegation.
And Lampard had composed himself sufficiently following that exuberant, bouncing celebration, to offer a judicious assessment over what must happen next.
He will recruit with the aim of having a “more balanced squad” and is already plotting for a pre-season when Lampard can begin establishing a style of play in his and the Club’s image.
Lampard has probably not received the credit he is due for a horses-for-courses approach over the past two months.
The wish for “high-pressing, possession football” took a backseat to the lone priority of keeping Everton in the Premier League.
His team surrendered the ball for large parts of matches, relying on their speed and thrust in forward areas to sting opponents on the counter-attack.
It was the ploy of a manager without an ego, one who is flexible and boasts an inherent understanding of the game.
He knows, then, what it will take for Everton to compete on very different fronts over forthcoming seasons.
Lampard has seen and embraced how Evertonians live and breathe their club, how those emotions aren’t turned on and off with the flick of a television switch.
And next on his agenda is the formation of a team that channels events over the past two months into creating an auspicious future for the Club and its fanatical supporters.